Why I hate burpees - and you should, too

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If you are a fitness minded person it is safe to say that you have come across burpees. The definition of a burpee in English is the following: a physical exercise consisting of a squat thrust made from and ending in a standing position.

Usually when we are asked to do them, we do a push up then jump forward from the plank position, we add a jump squat and then jump back to plank. Usually we get past the first few and they resemble that original image that we have of them. Once we get past a certain number, our form gets lost and we get tired. The push up in itself is hard, we forget our form in the jump forward and definitely in the jump back. And forget about the jump squat. If we manage to lift our arms over head while huffing and puffing that probably feels like an achievement.

Sound familiar?

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So why do I hate this exercise so much? For a number of reasons:

  1. Burpees are usually expected to be done speedy within a time frame of e.g. 60 seconds. If it's a bootcamp you will have an instructor breathing down your neck and hurrying you along while counting down the time.
  2. Anyone who has been asked to jump forward in yoga has received a lot of pointers on how to do it to land softly and safely. But when asked to do burpees, there are no cues. I have seen people jump and land hard on their feet, or hurt their toes and the worst, sudden load their forward flying body weight onto their shoulders and neck. Ouch.
  3. A jump squat is hard on the knees if done incorrectly but if done under pressure, even more so. A correct squat lowers the butt down to the heels with the chest staying upright. When performed under pressure and whilst scrambling to look up after the jump forward, the chest is usually down, the take off and landing on the feet is anything but light and the jump usually becomes an awkward hop.
  4. Jumping back to the plank position is where I have seen the worst variations that can cause serious injuries in classes that I took and the instructor asked us to do burpees. The most common being incorrect placement of the palms and therefore pain in the wrists and much worse, a jump back and landing with a hollow back resulting in a serious shock to the lumbar spine. Not an ideal position to then do a push up from, very painful in the long run and not very useful to build core strength. I myself can only do so many 'clean' burpees before having to pay extra attention to this aspect of the exercise.
  5. I fail to see the benefits from the exercise. Is it strength building, increasing cardiovascular capacity, working individual body parts or what?

My personal opinion is that there is no harm in breaking the exercise down:

  • You can do one minute of jump squats, paying attention to lowering your butt, keeping your knees above and behind the ankles, pressing off the ground and staying light on the balls of your feet.
  • Then you can do 60 seconds of push ups. Play around with them, do them in a chatturanga style with your elbows tucked in. Do them with wide elbows. Try them lowering all the way to the ground or maybe more dynamically by only lowering 2 inches and doing them faster. If all that isn't enough for you, do dolphin push ups.
  • Lastly, hold a plank and increase the time little by little. Move your arms around while you are doing it. Lift your palms off the ground, your feet, one at a time. Stay moving and see how that feels in your core the next day.

I hate burpees

Just with these three exercises, you can increase all those capacities I mentioned above in a much safer way and they will define, tone and sculpt your body while increasing your endurance potential.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Roma